When we recall the great artists of the 19th century, perhaps the vibrant and theatrical images of Delacroix come to mind. Or do scenes of daring and struggle from Hugo flood our memory instead? Or the ebullient audacity of a Schumann song resonate in our ears? Perhaps all three, and more, for theirs was the dramatic, exuberant age of the individual, in life and in art, which was "larger than life."
How different are the images of our own generation. Today, in a culture that glorifies violence, vulgarity, and ugliness—where art has become bereft of any objective standards—we witness a sad scene as most artists flounder to a graceless finish of the 20th century. They are not alone. Intellectuals, public officials, and almost everyone approach this millennial birthday warily. Shall there be cause for celebration—or greater trauma?
The hot ashes of 20th-century collectivism and nihilism still spit and sputter around us, but ashes they are. The 1990's signal not only the end of a turbulent century, but also the swift death of communism as a social system and the drawnout demise of the serious modernist art movement, both of which dominated the period. The future? Some dare to hope, for we are beginning to witness a resurgence of certain hallmarks of the 19th century: a concern for individual freedom in society and a romantic spirit in the arts.
Renewed appropriately, these values could...